Dushyant Chautala | Rebel prince

The former BJP ally, who has offered support to the Congress to form an alternative government in Haryana, is fighting to keep his party legislators together

Updated - May 12, 2024 10:06 am IST

Published - May 12, 2024 01:27 am IST

Dushyant Chautala. Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Dushyant Chautala. Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Haryana is in political turmoil after three independent MLAs withdrew their support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, and its former coalition partner, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), offered support to the Congress to form an alternative government.

As the State continues to witness breakneck political developments, 36-year-old Dushyant Chautala, leader of the JJP who became the Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana in 2019, is now facing a stiff task of keeping his flock of 10 legislators together, and fighting to stay relevant in the State’s politics. His political acumen and leadership skills are at the test in the midst of the Lok Sabha election and in the run-up to the Assembly election, which is due to be held in October-November this year.

To bring down the government led by his old ally, the BJP, Mr. Chautala has offered support for the Congress from “outside”. He has also asked Governor Bandaru Dattatreya to call for an immediate ‘floor test’ to determine the majority of the government.

In the 90-member State Assembly, which currently has an effective strength of 88, the BJP government, led by Chief Minister Nayab Singh Saini, appears to be in a minority with only 43 MLAs by its side, two short of majority. But BJP leaders assert that their government is under ‘no threat’ and that if there be any need, “other MLAs“ will support them, an indicator of potential support from disgruntled JJP MLAs.

Disgruntled MLAs

At least three disgruntled MLAs of the JJP, annoyed over Mr. Chautala’s ‘style of working’, have met the senior BJP leader and former Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, fuelling speculation that they may switch sides, and even explore legal possibilities of splitting the JJP. At this juncture, Mr. Chautala, the co-founder of the JJP, is staring at a crisis as he is trying to secure his party, which was formed in 2018, after breaking away from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

His party won 10 seats in the 2019 Assembly elections, and it played a key role in forming the coalition government in Haryana.

After the split, the INLD and its breakaway faction fought to claim the political legacy of its founder, Chaudhary Devi Lal, a former Deputy Prime Minister and a noted farmer leader. In the 2019 Assembly elections, Mr. Chautala proved his mettle by winning 10 seats. The INLD saw a near washout as the party could win only one seat. The 2018 split in the INLD followed a bitter power struggle between two brothers — Ajay Chautala, who was then serving a 10-year jail sentence in a case related to a teacher recruitment scam, and Abhay Chautala, who was then the leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly and was running the party since 2013. Amid the family feud, Ajay and his son Dushyant floated the JJP.

Four and half years after the government was formed in the State, the BJP-JJP alliance broke down a couple of months ago, amid differences over seat-sharing for the general election.

In the run-up to the polls, the JJP, which draws its support largely from the agrarian class (primarily the Jat community), found itself at the receiving end of farmers’ anger as many farmer organisations confronted party leaders while they were visiting villages during the election campaign.

Aggressive stance

Of late, Mr. Chautala has been taking an aggressive stance against the BJP. The attempt was aimed at reclaiming the party’s core support base, which seemed to have taken a beating after the year-long farmers’ agitation against the BJP government at the Centre. As the BJP faced farmers’ wrath over the now repealed agricultural laws and demand for higher support price, the JJP, the BJP’s ally in the state, also faced the heat.

As the JJP is going through a rough patch, Mr. Chautala has twin problems at hand — one to curb the apparent rebellion within the party and the other to offset the resentment among farmer groups. Almost five years ago, he led the party to be a kingmaker in Haryana’s politics. Today, he is fighting not to let the party he co-founded end up as a fringe group.

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